Operation and controls

Nikon has done a lot to ensure that the Z7's operation feels familiar to users of its existing DSLRs. But, while the Z7's menus and interface are similar to Nikon's older models, the behavior of its AF system is likely to be unfamiliar.

Key takeaways:

  • Menus are familiar for Nikon DSLR owners
  • Touchscreen is extensively used but there's no AF touchpad option
  • i Menu now touch-sensitive and customizable
  • Buttons are highly customizable but dedicated AF mode button is absent
  • Separate stills/movie customization

Touchscreen

The touchscreen is used for a number of things: setting the AF point, interacting with both the main menu and the customizable 'i' menu (more on that further down this page) and for zooming and navigating images in playback mode.

One noticeable omission is that the screen can't be used as a touchpad when the camera is held to your eye, as is increasingly widely offered (including on Nikon's own D5600). Existing shooters of high-end Nikons need not concern themselves: there's an AF point joystick instead, but it does seem like an odd feature to omit on a touchscreen camera.

Menus

The Z7's menus will be immediately familiar to anyone who's used a Nikon D200 or newer DSLR. Not only does it follow the same tabbed structure with the color-coded Custom Settings menu divided into logical subsections, but it also offers a near-identical set of options to those in the D850.

i Menu

One of the main changes on the 'Z' cameras is the move to a touch-sensitive, customizable version of the 'i' menu, used for quick settings changes. This is essentially a streamlined version of the system developed in Nikon's mass-market cameras.

Unlike the D850, which had an 'Info' button to show a screen of settings and an 'i' button that brought up a list of options, the Z7 sees the two concepts combined. There's still a full-screen info display, now accessed by pressing the 'DISP' button, but the twelve options along the bottom of this panel are now customizable and interactive.

These twelve options also pop up as an overlay in live view mode, if you hit the 'i' button. You can then navigate these either using the four-way controller and 'OK' button or by tapping the screen. You can't navigate using the camera's joystick, but that never bothered us in use.

Options assignable to i menu
  • Choose image area (FX / Crop)
  • Image Quality
  • Image Size
  • Exposure Compensation
  • ISO sensitivity settings
  • White Balance
  • Set Picture Control
  • Color space
  • Active D-Lighting
  • Long exposure NR
  • High ISO NR
  • Metering
  • Flash mode
  • Flash compensation
  • Focus mode (AF/MF)
  • AF-area mode
  • Vibration reduction
  • Auto bracketing
  • Multi exposure
  • HDR (high dynamic range)
  • Silent photography
  • Release mode
  • Custom control assignment
  • Exposure delay mode
  • Electronic front-curtain shutter
  • Apply settings to live view
  • Split-screen display zoom
  • Peaking highlights
  • Monitor/viewfinder brightness
  • Bluetooth connection
  • Wi-Fi connection

If you select an option in the 'i' menu by tapping it, a list of available options appears, whereas if you navigate to it using the physical controls, it's simply highlighted and the camera's dials can be used to quickly scroll through the available options.

Now that we've addressed customization options for the 'i' menu, let's take a look at how you can customize the Z7's buttons, starting with stills mode.


Button customization in stills mode

The camera's main two Fn buttons sit between the grip and lens mount, just as they would on a high-end Nikon DSLR. We didn't find them especially easy to reach, and they're a bit wobbly.

The two main Fn buttons (placed between the lens mount and the grip) can be used for a number of functions, either to temporarily have an effect while pressed or, in conjunction with the command dials, to cycle through the available options for a specific function.

A subset of these functions can be assigned to a press of the joystick and, with the sole exception of 'Protect' the single-press options can also be assigned to the L-Fn buttons that may exist on some Z-mount lenses.

Single-press options (Fn 1, Fn2, L-Fn, *Joystick press)
  • Select center focus point (Joystick press only)
  • AF-On*
  • AF lock only*
  • AE lock (Hold)*
  • AE lock (Reset on release)*
  • AE lock only*
  • AE/AF lock*
  • FV lock*
  • [Flash] Disable/enable*
  • [DoF] Preview*
  • Matrix metering*
  • Center-weighted metering*
  • Spot metering*
  • Highlight-weighted metering*
  • Bracketing burst*
  • Sync. release selection*
  • + NEF (Raw)*
  • Framing grid display*
  • Zoom on/on
  • MY MENU
  • Access top item in MY MENU
  • Playback
  • Protect (Not L-Fn)
Button + Dial turn options (Fn1, Fn2, *Joystick press)
  • Choose image area (FX / Crop)*
  • Image quality/size
  • White Balance
  • Set Picture Control
  • Active D-Lighting
  • Metering
  • Flash mode/compensation
  • Focus mode/AF-area mode
  • Auto bracketing
  • Multiple exposure
  • HDR (high dynamic range)
  • Exposure delay mode
  • Peaking highlights
  • Rating
  • Choose non-CPU lens number*
  • None

Movie [Rec] button

Since the Movie record button isn't used in stills mode and the button configuration can be set separately for video capture, it essentially becomes a third Fn button.

Movie Rec Button press options
  • AE lock (Hold)
  • AE lock (Reset on release)
  • [DoF] Preview
  • + NEF (Raw)
  • Framing grid display
  • Zoom on/off
  • MY MENU
  • Access top item in MY Menu
Movie Rec Button + Dial Turn options
  • Choose image area (FX / Crop)*
  • Image quality/size
  • White Balance
  • Set Picture Control
  • Active D-Lighting
  • Metering
  • Flash mode/compensation
  • Focus mode/AF-area mode
  • Auto bracketing
  • Multiple exposure
  • HDR (high dynamic range)
  • Exposure delay mode
  • Shutter spd & aperture lock
  • Choose non-CPU lens number*
  • None

AF-On

The AF-On button can only be used for a limited number of AF and AE-related functions.

Oddly, Nikon has omitted the 'AF-area mode' and 'AF-area mode + AF-On' options, which exist on its high-end DSLR and allow you to temporarily switch to a different AF mode or, better still, switch modes and initiate focus. We found these could be hugely useful in fast-paced shooting and are disappointed to see them go missing.

AF-On button options
  • Select center focus point
  • AF-On
  • AF lock only
  • AE lock (Hold)
  • AE lock (Reset on release)
  • AE lock only
  • AE/AF lock
  • Zoom on/off
  • None

Button customization in video mode

The camera's buttons can be configured separately for video shooting mode, with the camera offering a much wider array of options than the D850 did. It's also possible to configure the 'i' menu to offer access to a different set of features for video capture than the ones you've chosen for stills shooting.

The camera's buttons and 'i' Menu can be configured separately for video shooting

In video mode, the Fn1, Fn2, Joystick Press and AF-On buttons can be customized. The power aperture and exposure compensation options are designed to be assigned in pairs, such that Fn1 and Fn2 offer opposing functions.

Single-press options (Fn 1, Fn2)
  • Power aperture (Fn1: Open / Fn2: Close)
  • Exposure compensation (Fn1: + / Fn2; –)
  • Framing grid display
  • Protect
Button + Dial turn options (Fn1, Fn2)
  • Choose image area (FX / Crop)
  • White Balance
  • Set Picture Control
  • Active D-Lighting
  • Metering
  • Focus mode/AF-area mode
  • Microphone sensitivity
  • Peaking highlights
  • Rating
  • None

One absence to note compared to Nikon's DSLRs is the 'Access top item in MY Menu' option. This is a great shame, since it can be a really useful way to gain access to a feature you want to access.

AF-On and Joystick press

The AF-On button can only be used for a limited number of AF and AE-related functions. Note the option to initiate video recording using the AF-On button.

AF-On button and *Joystick press options
  • Select center focus point*
  • AF-On
  • AF lock only*
  • AE lock (Hold)*
  • AE lock only*
  • AE/AF lock
  • Zoom on/off
  • Record movies
  • Framing grid display (Joystick press only)
  • None
Joystick press + Dial turn options
  • Choose image area (FX / Crop)*
  • None*

Other customization options

The camera lets you choose whether to use the shutter button to take photos (which it can do at 8MP without interrupting 4K capture), or to initiate video recording.

As in stills mode, the lens ring can be re-purposed. Again, by default it's used for manual focus or correcting autofocus but it can also be assigned to power aperture, exposure compensation or to have no function, in order to prevent accidental operation.

Finally, you can reconfigure the role of the 'OK' button at the center of the four-way controller. This can be set to 'Select center focus point,' 'Zoom on/off,' to 'Record movies' or to have no function. This means, in all, you can start movie shooting either with the dedicated button, with the shutter button, with AF-On, with a press of the joystick nub or using the 'OK' button.